When the Chicago Cubs visited Great American Ball Park last month, the Cincinnati Reds won four of five to pull within 2 1/2 games of the NL Central lead.
A lot has changed since then for Cincinnati – and not for the better.
As ace Johnny Cueto takes another shot at becoming MLB’s first 16-game winner Tuesday night, the Reds are hoping to manufacture a late turnaround while continuing their dominance against the Cubs.
Since outscoring Chicago 27-17 in that rare five-game set from July 7-10, Cincinnati (63-68) has gone 14-25 while posting a .229 average to fall into a deep hole in the division and sixth in the crowded wild-card race.
The Reds, though, snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 1-0 win over Atlanta on Saturday, then showed some life offensively with 10 hits in Sunday’s 5-3 victory. Zack Cosart had three of those, and Todd Frazier went 2 for 4 with his 22nd home run.
"I don’t think there’s any quit in this team," manager Bryan Price told MLB’s official website. "We can play a lot better than we have."
Price is hoping a series with the last-place Cubs (58-72) can spark a run. The Reds have won nine of 13 meetings in 2014 and 56 of 78 dating to the 2010 season.
Cueto (15-7, 2.20 ERA) has had a hand in that success, going 5-0 with a 1.19 ERA in his last seven starts versus Chicago.
The right-hander will try to bounce back after having his five-start winning streak snapped with Wednesday’s 7-3 loss at St. Louis. He allowed five runs and a season high-tying seven hits with four walks over five-plus innings.
Cueto should be able to bounce back at home, where he owns a 1.74 ERA over a six-start winning streak.
He gave up two runs over 6 1-3 innings in a 4-2 home victory over the Cubs on July 8. Chicago’s Chris Coghlan homered in that contest for his only hit in eight career at-bats when facing Cueto. Ryan Sweeney followed with another immediately after, one of 15 solo shots of the 16 homers Cueto has allowed.
Slugger Anthony Rizzo has gone just 1 for 15 lifetime in the matchup, but he’s hitting .356 with six home runs against the Reds this season while reaching base at a .500 clip.
Fellow All-Star Starlin Castro is expected to return after a five-game stint on the bereavement list as the Cubs try for their fourth straight win following a home sweep of AL East-leading Baltimore.
Arismendy Alcantara homered in Sunday’s 2-1 win and is 5 for 7 in his last two games. The rookie had season highs with four hits and three RBIs in his last game in Cincinnati, a 6-4 win July 10.
The Reds will get their first look at fellow rookie Javier Baez, who ranks among the NL leaders with seven home runs in August.
"It doesn’t hurt when you’re playing good baseball and your spirits are uplifted when you have some of the young men coming through in big situations with timely hits or some really nice defensive plays," manager Rick Renteria said.
Travis Wood (7-11, 4.91) will try to lead the Cubs to a seventh win in nine games, but he’s 0-6 with a 5.45 ERA in 12 starts since last winning June 15 in Philadelphia.
Wood hasn’t had much success against his former club, going 1-5 with a 3.68 ERA in eight career starts. He opposed Cueto in Cincinnati last month, allowing four runs over 5 1-3 innings.